As mental health professionals in the Garden State continue to supply the bulk of their services over the phone and video chat, they're paying close attention to individuals on the front lines during this public health crisis, who've arguably seen the greatest amount of tragedy and heartbreak first hand since mid-March.

While attempting to limit the pandemic's fatality count, healthcare professionals and first responders are also attempting to protect themselves and their families from the potential impacts of COVID-19.

"We have so many people with post-traumatic stress disorder now as a result of this (pandemic), that we're going to be treating them for the rest of our careers," said Charity Truong, a clinical psychologist with Stress & Anxiety Services of New Jersey, located in East Brunswick.  "The PTSD is so, so severe for doctors and nurses who are running out of beds and having to make constant life-and-death decisions, and losing patients in a way they never had before."

While plenty of New Jersey residents have the luxury of staying in and working remotely until the emergency subsides, Truong added, individuals on the front lines are face to face with the crisis on a daily basis.

Thanks to $1.7 million in federal funds, the New Jersey Department of Human Services in December announced the launch of two helplines specifically meant to provide emotional support and counseling to first responders and health care workers impacted by the pandemic.

The HEAL NJ Healthcare Workers COVID Hope & Healing Helpline (1-833-416-8773) for doctors, nurses and other healthcare personnel, as well as the RISE: NJ First Responders COVID Help & Healing Helpline (1-833-237-4325) for law enforcement, firefighters and EMS professionals, are handled by specialists trained in the crisis counseling model of the Federal Emergency Management Administration.

"What makes these lines special is that the calls are answered by individuals who understand the environments that they're working in," said Human Services Assistant Commissioner Valerie Mielke, who directs the department’s Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services. "What we wanted to do is be sure that they have a safe place, one that is confidential, for them to talk about their experiences, their anxieties and any trauma."

The lines offer live support daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., with emergency support available around the clock.

As of the middle of January, Mielke said, more than 400 calls had come into the line for healthcare workers, and the RISE line for first responders had handled more than 1,000 calls.

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